HBO's Silicon Valley Speaks Truth Through Satire

by John Drexler

“You can be openly polyamorous and people will call you brave. You can put micro-doses of LSD in your cereal and people will call you a pioneer. But the one thing you cannot be is a Christian.”  -- Jared Dunn on this week's episode of Silicon Valley

It’s uncomfortable when your faith is the subject of a great satirist’s work. Since the early 1990s Mike Judge has masterfully lampooned everything from suburban Texas (King of the Hill) to a farfetched, dystopian future in which the president is a foul-mouthed pro wrestler with no grasp of policy (Idiocracy). Needless to say that my ears perked up when his latest project, HBO’s critically acclaimed (and often raunchy) Silicon Valley, turned its attention to the intersection of faith and work.

The show focuses on a small group of tech founders led by CEO Richard Hendricks who left cushy jobs at Hooli (a thinly veiled reference to Silicon Valley giants like Google and Facebook) to launch their company Pied Piper. Sunday night’s episode “Tech Evangelist” introduced an openly-gay, closeted-Christian founder named D.D. with whom Pied Piper hoped to partner on a new initiative. Richard assures D.D. that his homosexuality will not be a problem, but their relationship sours when he ‘outs’ D.D. as a Christian in front of other founders. Over-the-top fallout ensues: Pied Piper nearly loses some valuable partnerships, their venture capitalist backers fret about how his faith will play with the press, and (spoiler alert) Richard ultimately ruins his relationship with D.D. shortly after a last ditch plea, “Just don’t be Christian.”

The episode is packed with hilarious reversals of old-school norms in the American workplace. D.D. is concerned that his dating app is not inclusive enough, because they don’t include straight people. Richard commends an ultra-violent video game company for its “pristine reputation.” Christianity is just as taboo as homosexuality was 30 years ago. Religion is scorned, the judgmental have become the judged, and the marginalized have become the new gatekeepers of acceptable public opinion. Satire this incisive tells us something about the world, and also offers some worthwhile criticism of Christian culture. I’m not a TV critic, and I don’t want to make assumptions about the intent of the writers. But as a young Christian in Silicon Valley, here are a few observations from the episode:

This discussion of faith and work is more relevant than ever. 

The time is right for us to have a robust, ongoing conversation about what it means to be a person of faith in the marketplace. Should we shut up about our faith? Should we abstain from working with people who are hostile toward our faith like D.D. does? Is it ever appropriate to share your faith in the workplace? There aren’t simple, one-size-fits-all answers here; it’s complicated and messy. But it is crucially important for us to learn how to simultaneously hold onto the truth of the Gospel, show kindness and generosity to our colleagues when we disagree with them, and be world class employees, bosses, mentors, and investors. If you want to read more about those topics, this site has done a great job gathering some resources for you to check out.

Being outside the zeitgeist should make us more hospitable.

This is a great opportunity for Christians to consider what it’s like to be on the outside of mainstream American culture. For centuries, Christianity was the dominant culture of the West. But we live in a pluralistic society, and to many people our worldview is (to use Richard’s words) repugnant, ignorant, stupid, and wrong. Consider what other groups we’ve labeled this way. Consider the ways in which we (collectively as the church, and individually as followers of Christ) have marginalized other groups from our position of power, and consider repenting for the harm we’ve done. Consider how we hope to be treated when we’re no longer the dominant culture. We want to be handled hospitably, charitably, and graciously by people who disagree with us. We owe others that same charity, regardless of how repugnant we might find some of their ideas. Norms change fast, and we should be in favor of a workplace that is hospitable to a plurality of worldviews.

We are known by our fruit, and we need to produce better fruit.

We are a 'city on a hill', and it’s worth paying attention to how we are perceived by all the people who don’t live on the hill with us. What are we known for? Petty ‘culture war’ issues? Caring for the widow and the orphan? Being judgmental and hypocritical? Loving our neighbors? Are we solving problems, or are we creating problems? Do we create redemptive, beautiful culture or ugly, derivative culture? Monica sums it up well, “Think of it this way: would you want to go from being a rock band to a Christian rock band?” Silicon Valley is creating and modifying culture at breakneck speed. What would it look like for us to contribute to culture alongside the best and the brightest of Silicon Valley (or any workplace or any other creative field in the world) to create redemptive, life-giving, insightful, true, beautiful culture? That’s a blog post for another day, but Andy Crouch’s book Culture Making is a great place to start. 

Things aren’t as bad as the episode portrayed.

Churchgoing rates in the Bay Area are among the lowest in the nation (some estimates are as low as 2%). However, there are a number of vibrant church communities, successful ministries, and terrific preaching here as well. If Silicon Valley is Nineveh, we’ve got a lot of Jonah’s already hard at work. On a personal note, I have experienced awesome church community, and rarely encountered the kind of prejudice represented in this episode in my brief time in the Bay Area. The church may be smaller here, but rest assured, the Holy Spirit is alive and well in Silicon Valley. 

John Drexler lives in Silicon Valley and is an Associate at Sovereign's Capital, a venture fund that invests in faith driven entrepreneurs in South East Asia and the US.  These comments are his own, and not necessarily the views of the Fund. --John's bio here

"Editor Note"   John's post alludes to this, but the reader should know that this show uses lots of bad language and has subject matter that we as an editorial staff often find offensive.  Please know that this post is not an endorsement of the show itself.